Dune presents the idea that testing scales should never have a maximum level - it should always be possible to get a higher score or go to a more difficult level. There's one memorable scene where someone is training on the sword-fighting robot and keeps winning and raising the level, until it's extremely dangerous.

Did Herbert base this idea on a philosophical concept from the real world?

  • Since you're asking about real-world versions of this, rather than asking about the concept within the context of a work of fiction, I don't think this site is the right fit for the question.
    – BESW
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 5:47
  • If a SF book proposed a unique rocket design, would it be appropriate to ask whether that rocket design had ever been used in real life? It seems to me that it would be. Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 7:03
  • If I changed the question to ask whether any other SF books ever advocated that idea, would the question be a better fit then? Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 7:04
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    The book you're talking about isn't even by Frank Herbert. It's The Machine Crusade, by Kevin J. Anderson and Frank's son, Brian Herbert, almost two decades after Frank's death. That almost certainly renders your question moot, even ignoring its other problems. As for what Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson based that tidbit on, it's likely the same thing they based the rest of their books on; the fact that Anderson wanted to rape Frank Herbert's legacy for monetary gain but needed Brian along for the ride to even attempt to pass off his tripe as legitimate. Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 8:06
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    @JamesSheridan -- I think he may be thinking of the scene with Alia sparring with the sword droid in Dune Messiah; Paul deactivates it with a precisely thrown knife, and the following conversation ensues: [Alia] “And why do the damned things have that many lights if we’re not supposed to try for them?” “A Bene Gesserit should ask the reasoning behind an open-ended system?” Paul asked.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 15:04

1 Answer 1


Computerized adaptive testing works like that, but the idea is probably older than computerized testing, as I've heard it many times in regard to oral exams in university as well as job interviews: keep asking harder questions and determine the skill of the examinee by considering at what point he/she starts having problems.

There is an old and well-known physical exercise equivalent as well: high jump competitions work exactly like that: there is no fixed limit for how high you can jump - you just keep raising the bar until nobody can clear it.

In any case, "unlimited" is a bit of an exaggeration, as there are always limits. A swordfighting robot will certainly be limited by its basic construction in how dangerous it can be. The difficulty level of exam questions is limited by how smart the person who invents them and judges answers is. In highjumping, even if you ignore limits imposed by human anatomy, if you leave the ground fast enough, you'd jump straight out of Earth's gravity field, in which case the question of how high you jumped becomes meaningless.

  • There are always limits, but at least from a mathematical standpoint it's possible to continue improving performance, achieving higher scores, without actually reaching or exceeding the limit.
    – RobertF
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 14:00

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